Guest Post: Author Greer Macallister Ponders The Mystery Of Historical Fiction

TML coverToday, author Greer Macallister tackles the age-old question of genre! Historical fiction, women’s fiction, romance. Does it matter? How do we fit? What does it mean? I’m not sure there are any definite answers, but Greer has it right. It’s the reader who matters, and our job is to deliver a good story. THAT’S what’s most important, no matter when, where, or how, your story exists.

Please welcome Greer Macallister to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

The Mystery of History

by Greer Macallister

TML coverMuch like “women’s fiction”, “historical fiction” is a term people can fight about all day long and then some. What does it mean? Who does it serve? What’s the point?

That’s the case with all genres, on some level. Recently, I saw a roundup of reviews in one of the major industry publications, and was astounded to see “Amish fiction” as its own category. Doesn’t that seem a little… specialized?

But then I thought about the readers.

If there are readers who are burning for Amish fiction, who want to read nothing but Amish fiction, who want to jam-pack their e-readers or their shelves or what-have-you with Amish fiction, then guess what? Genre has done its job.

It’s hard, still, for me to agree to “historical fiction” as a meaningful category. My book, The Magician’s Lie, is historical fiction about a female illusionist under suspicion for her husband’s murder. It’s set in 1905. It has less in common with The Other Boleyn Girl (“historical fiction”) than it does with Gone Girl (“contemporary” or “thriller” or “crime”, among other things, depending on who you ask.)

History is… well, history’s big. It covers the waterfront. Soldiers and outlanders, queens and architects, pilots and criminals. What could all these stories have in common? Just that they took place in the past? Just that they’re centered on some time which is not The Now? It seems a slender thread on which to hang anything at all.

And yet. It always comes back to that same question. With “Amish fiction”, with “historical fiction”, with “women’s fiction”: what about the reader?

Are there readers who want their fiction historical? I’m sure there are. There are likely more who want to drill down further, who prefer their historical fiction Gilded Age or WWII or alt-Victorian. For those readers, the “historical fiction” category is at least a starting point. Perhaps it’s like “romance” – you know what you’re going to get, on some level, but there is a great deal of excitement and variation and charm in the particular way that a particular author in a particular book leads you from The Beginning to The End.

If nothing else, genre can open up our eyes to the pleasant futility of expectations. No matter what someone tells you about a book – the genre, or how much they loved it, or that it was a bestseller – there is no substitute for experience. What matters about a book, when you sit down to read it, is whether you want to find out what’s on the next page.

In that way, you always make your own history.

Greer square profileRaised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright, and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in creative writing. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Read more about The Magician’s Lie here.

Greer’s website is here.

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: Author Greer Macallister Ponders The Mystery Of Historical Fiction

  1. Indeed, you have illustrated the silliness that is the “categorizing” of fiction (though we all understand its necessity, to some degree, in marketing/sales). But yes — in the end, it IS all about the reader and her reaction …”What matters about a book, when you sit down to read it, is whether you want to find out what’s on the next page.” YES!

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    • I agree !! I understand needing to categorize a book but as an author I find it one of the most tedious task to accomplish. I hated just putting my book into one or two genres, because like you said what really matters is whether or not the reader wants to turn the page.

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  2. “If nothing else, genre can open up our eyes to the pleasant futility of expectations. No matter what someone tells you about a book – the genre, or how much they loved it, or that it was a bestseller – there is no substitute for experience. What matters about a book, when you sit down to read it, is whether you want to find out what’s on the next page.

    In that way, you always make your own history.”

    Oh. This. Perfect. Thank you, Greer. I’ve just signed with a publisher for my first novel and it defies genre: contemporary thriller, historical fiction, romance without an HEA, women’s fiction, alternative history, paranormal- it’s all in there. I set out to write a good story, not a genre. Here’s to hoping my readers agree, no matter what their interest. Okay, a diehard sci-fi fan may be disappointed … 🙂

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  3. I have a hard time getting around the idea that genre is just a construct of the publishing industry used to sell/market books (and believe it or not, my grandma loves Amish romance books in particular). What we consider classics may at the time have been children’s literature (like Anne of Green Gables, which I never would have been able to read as a child). I think the thing that sets historical fiction apart is that we want to make sure that it’s not too much fiction and just enough historical. We don’t want anyone to lie to us in our fiction (Ironic? Yes). For instance, a friend of mine was telling me how he does not like the movie or the novel When Nietzsche Wept because the the author didn’t research enough. What is enough? How much is too much? I’ve heard of people who develop percentages for memoirs, as in as a reader the person would only accept 20% of it not being totally true.

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